Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese
Bronze Age China to present
Oracle Bone Script•Chinese
Hani, Hans, Hant
: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols.
, also known as a
; Hànzì), is a logogram used in writing Chinese
less frequently Korean
and formerly Vietnamese
and other languages.Chinese characters are also known as
, and the Chinese writing system as
. Chinesecharacters are the oldest continuously used system of writing in the world.
The number of Chinese characters contained in the Kangxi dictionary is approximately 47,035, although a largenumber of these are rarely used variants accumulated throughout history. Studies carried out in China have shownthat full literacy in the Chinese language requires a knowledge of between three and four thousand characters.
In the Chinese writing system, the characters are
each usually corresponding to a spoken syllable witha basic meaning. However, although Chinese words may be formed by characters with basic meanings, a majority of words in Mandarin Chinese require two or more characters to write (thus are polysyllabic) but have meaning that isdistinct from but dependent on the characters they are made from.
Cognates in the various Chineselanguages/dialects which have the same or similar meaning but different pronunciations can be written with the samecharacter.Chinese characters have also been used and in some cases continue to be used in other languages, most significantlyJapanese (where a single character can represent several spoken syllables), Korean, and Vietnamese. Chinesecharacters are used both by meaning to represent native words, ignoring the Chinese pronunciation, and by meaningand sound, to represent Chinese loanwords. These foreign pronunciations of Chinese characters are known asSinoxenic pronunciations, and have been useful in the reconstruction of Ancient Chinese.
In the last 50 or so years, inscriptions have been found on pottery in a variety of locations in China such as Bànpōnear Xī'ān, as well as on bone and bone marrows at Hualouzi, Cháng'ān near Xī'ān. These simple, often geometricmarks have been frequently compared to some of the earliest known Chinese characters, on the oracle bones, andsome have taken them to mean that the history of Chinese writing extends back over six millennia.However, because these marks occur singly, without any context to imply, and because they are generally extremelycrude and simple, Qiú Xīguī (2000, p. 31) concluded that "we do not have any basis for stating that these constitutedwriting, nor is there reason to conclude that they were ancestral to Shang dynasty Chinese characters." Isolatedgraphs and pictures continue to be found periodically, frequently accompanied by media reports pushing back thepurported beginnings of Chinese writing a few thousand years. For example, at Dàmàidì in Níngxià, 3,172 pictorialcliff carvings dating to 6000
5000 BCE have been discovered, leading to headlines such as "Chinese writing '8,000years old.'"
Similarly, archaeologists report finding a few inscribed symbols on tortoise shells at the Neolithic siteof Jiahu in Henan, dated to around 6,600
6,200 BCE, leading to headlines of "'Earliest writing' which was found inChina.